The Theme of Hawthorne’s The Minister's Black Veil Essay
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“The Minister’s Black Veil” – The Theme
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” the dominanat theme is obviously one man’s alienation from society. This essay intends to explore, exemplify and develop this topic.
Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:
Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power. “Insulation,” he sometimes called it – which suggests not only isolation but imperviousness. It is the opposite of that “osmosis of being” that Warren has written of, that ability to respond and relate to others and the world. . . . it puts one outside the ‘magic circle’ or the ‘magnetic chain’ of humanity, where there is neither love nor reality (54).…show more content…
Hooper's face was behind that piece of crape''
``He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face''
``Our parson has gone mad!''
Few could refrain from twisting their heads towards the door. . . .
. . . more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the
On this first day of wearing his black veil there is some peculiar difference in Hooper’s sermon:
But there was something, either in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in the imagination of the auditors, which made it greatly the most powerful effort that they had ever heard from their pastor's lips. It was tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper's temperament. The subject had reference to secret sin. . . .
“Hawthorne himself was preoccupied with the problems of evil, the nature of sin” (Swisher 13). The psychological impact of the veil is that each parishioner feels that “the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought”; and “with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked.” Perhaps the rationale behind the black veil is with regard to the impact which it has on their moral lives; each one becomes more aware of the secret sin within himself and thus more morally cautious. Regardless of the reason behind it, the veil causes the congregation to want to get out of church:
In the small Puritan town of Milford, the townspeople walk to church. As they’re settling into their seats, the sexton points out Milford’s young minister, Reverend Hooper, walking thoughtfully toward the church. Hooper is wearing a black veil that covers his entire face except for his mouth and chin. This sight disturbs and perplexes the townspeople, and some think that Hooper has gone insane, but when he delivers his sermon for the day, they are unusually moved. Afterwards, Hooper goes through his usual practice of greeting his congregation, but no one seems to feel comfortable interacting with him.
In the afternoon, there is a funeral service, and Hooper’s veil is appropriate for the occasion. As he bends over the body, which belonged to a young woman, his veil hangs down, so that the woman could see his face if she were alive — Hooper quickly covers his face again. As Hooper leaves the church, two townspeople comment that it seems as if he is walking with the woman’s ghost by his side. In the night, Hooper performs a wedding for a young couple. He catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror, and is so terrified by his own appearance that he spills the ceremonial wine on the carpet and rushes out of the church.
Everyone talks about Hooper’s veil, but no one asks him why he is wearing it. Some believe that Hooper is insane, but most say that he has committed a horrible crime, and is atoning for it by hiding his face. Eventually, a group goes to see him, but they are too intimidated to inquire about his veil. The only person in Milford who isn’t afraid of Hooper is Elizabeth, his fiancée. Elizabeth asks Hooper to show her his face and explain why he has chosen to cover it; she warns him that the townspeople think he has committed a grave sin. Hooper refuses, and says that all humans have sins. He begs Elizabeth to spend her life with him, adding that he is terrified of being alone, and that when they are reunited in the afterlife, his veil will come off. Elizabeth begins to grow afraid of the veil, and breaks off their engagement. From then on, Hooper is completely isolated from the rest of Milford.
Hooper’s veil makes him an extremely impressive preacher. Before he wore it, his sermons were mild and pleasant; afterwards, the townspeople think that his speeches are darker, more powerful (though the narrator of the story suggests the sermons aren’t much different at all). People claim that the sight of Hooper’s black veil converted them to Christianity, and sinners on their deathbeds ask to see Mr. Hooper. Hooper’s reputation for being an impressive preacher stretches across New England.
Years pass, and Hooper grows old and sick. On his deathbed, he is nursed by Elizabeth, who has continued to love him despite never marrying him. A group of clergymen, including the young Reverend Clark, gather around Hooper and praise him for his moral reputation. They beg him to allow them to remove his veil, so that they may see the face of a good man. Hooper shouts that his veil must never be lifted on earth. Confused, Clark asks Hooper what crime has caused Hooper to hide his face. In response, Hooper asks why Milford has been afraid of him for so long, and says that they should be afraid of each other. He can only be condemned, he continues, when all humans are completely honest and open with each other. With his dying words, Hooper says that he looks around and sees a black veil on every face. Shocked and impressed, the clergymen bury Hooper with his face still covered.
Arn, Jackson. "The Minister’s Black Veil Plot Summary." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 17 Jun 2015. Web. 10 Mar 2018.
Arn, Jackson. "The Minister’s Black Veil Plot Summary." LitCharts LLC, June 17, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2018. http://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-minister-s-black-veil/summary.